Memories of another Independence Day

India’s Independence Day conjures up a range of powerful emotions and memories in me.

When I was very young in the 1970s, I would jump into a banged up car with my father (former New Zealand Prime Minister, the late David Lange) to attend an Independence Day celebration in New Zealand.

Amongst my earliest memories are cavernous memorial halls filled with the echo of excited Gujaratis, spoilt by colourfully draped aunties and the confusion of seeing my beloved Uncle Thakur Parbhu in his khadi topi.

My father would introduce me to frail old men, saying they proudly served time at His Majesty’s expense with Mahatma Gandhi. The older I got, the greater the awe I experienced in hearing their stories.

My father had a deeply strong attachment to all things Indian and this plays no small part in my infatuation with the country.

The freedom struggle reverberated in his political philosophy and I sentimentally remember our long discussions on (Independent India’s first Prime Minister) Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and how my father’s eyes would glaze over when he recalled the greatest speech of them all.

He would look lost and uncharacteristically murmur, “Literature, Nehru’s Tryst with Destiny Speech was literature.”

A tremendous feat

For the freedom struggle, led by a man who many saw as a God amongst men, is one of the most tremendous epics of modern history. Not to be attracted to this romance at some level meant you do not have a single fibre of political being.

A man in a single hand-woven cloth softly evangelising the virtues of non-violence humbled Britain, then the world’s greatest Empire.

This gives further understanding to the world’s love for Gandhiji. His character is so clearly reminiscent of Jesus Christ. ‘To turn the other cheek’ was a largely untested philosophy of the Messiah’s disciples; with Gandhians, it meant enduring the real experience of being bloodied by the sickening crack of the lathi striking their skulls without succumbing to an overwhelming temptation to retaliate. What is even more inspiring is that this Gujarati Messiah actually got rid of the Romans.

Since those immortal days, India has had to live in a world of lesser men and hard realities.

Domestic colonisation

India may have rid itself of the British, but it has not purged itself of characters that would make the most pompous gora sahib look positively socialistic.

The glowing promise of a Gandhian Post-Independent India held an ecstasy that was easy to express by silver-tongued politicians but proved impossible to implement. India suffered a slow colonisation from within – a sad victim of friendly fire.

George Bernard Shaw said, “A man who is not a communist at the age of 20 is a fool. Any man who is still a communist at the age of 30 is even a bigger one.”

India came off age by the Indo-China War in 1962 and painfully realised the futility of embracing Gandhian principles of disarmament and non-violence.

The country realised that loving your neighbour with cries of ‘Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai!’ was enjoyable but turning the other cheek was just plain lunacy, encouraging the Chinese to march into Kolkata.

It was a pragmatic but traumatic abandonment of the heart of India’s political philosophy that had been so lovingly nurtured by the architects of Independence.

My political maturity occurred on the night of May 21, 1991, four days before my 20th birthday. Walking through the dark streets of Lajpat Nagar, I watched the election banners of a beaming Rajiv Gandhi get tangled in a sudden summer storm. I worshipped him and in my youthful foolhardiness placed all my wildly idealistic dreams for India on his shoulders.

His assassination ten days later changed my outlook forever and Gandhi’s words, which I devoured as a teenager, never quite had the same resonating ring.

Fortunately, India has citizens made of stronger stuff than many other nationals elsewhere in the world.

Venkita Kalyanam, the last surviving Private Secretary of Gandhiji is invigorated by the anti-corruption movement headed by Anna Hazare.

“Never was India against corruption as it is today. It is a great feeling. The Lokpal Bill will not turn India in to a corruption-free country overnight. It is just the beginning to the end of corruption,” he said.

This is the perfect last chapter to a great political romance. The man who was with the Mahatma when he uttered his last words and spent his last breath has returned to help lead India to a new Independence.

New Zealander Roy Lange, educated in New Delhi, is our Columnist based in Melbourne, Australia. He loves India and Indians.

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